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What is omnichannel retail? A guide with examples


omnichannel retail

Omnichannel retail is a customer-centric strategy that integrates various sales channels, including online, physical stores and mobile apps, to provide a seamless and unified shopping experience.


Its aim is to create a consistent brand image and offer customers the flexibility to shop, browse and interact with your business however they prefer. By offering multiple touchpoints and optimizing the customer journey across all channels, omnichannel retail improves customer satisfaction and loyalty, ultimately boosting sales and growth.


Omnichannel retail is a powerful force that you can tame to serve your customers and your growth goals. By leveraging a versatile tool set like Wix’s eCommerce website builder and keeping a firm grasp on your customers’ preferences, you’ll be well positioned for omnichannel success when you start your business.



What is omnichannel retail in detail?


Omnichannel retail has been a popular catchphrase for years but its definition is often hazy. The lack of specificity makes “omnichannel” seem bigger than it needs to be; two-hour store pickup, TikTok selling, and search engine advertising can all count as components of omnichannel selling, but that doesn’t mean you have to do all of them all at once.


The real definition is much simpler. Omnichannel retail is when you sell goods via multiple channels using a cohesive strategy to create a seamless, engaging customer experience. That’s it.


Focusing your efforts comes down to listening to your customers: you’ll want to sell on the channels where your shoppers choose to shop—be it social media or your physical store. When executed well, omnichannel retail is the ultimate customer-centric approach.



Omnichannel retail vs multichannel retail


While the definition may be simple, the reality of integrating and coordinating activities can be complicated behind the scenes. But that cohesive effort is exactly what sets omnichannel selling apart from its aging cousin, “multichannel retailing.”


While “multi-channel” merchants might have diverse online and store offerings, those efforts aren’t necessarily inter-operational. Brands fall into this trap when internal teams work in isolation and compete—rather than collaborate—for budget dollars.


For example, a retailer whose eCommerce site fulfills orders from a dedicated distribution center and shares nothing but a brand name with its physical stores is technically operating in two channels, but isn’t leveraging the benefits that come with synchronizing efforts between them.



omnichannel vs multichannel retail


Omnichannel retail vs single channel retail


Even more rare is “single channel retail,” which describes brands that operate stores or a standalone online destination, but not both. This form of selling is nearly extinct, and not just because stores are catching up to consumers with new digital channels; “pure-play” retailers that started exclusively online, such as Warby Parker and Amazon, are opening physical locations, too, finding that the two channels work better together.



The growing benefits of omnichannel retail


The growth of both “bricks to clicks” and “clicks to bricks” suggests that a fluid blend of physical and digital shopping is the most effective approach for omnichannel success. This combined approach has numerous benefits.




01. Meet consumers wherever they shop


Digital experiences influence far more than the 15% of revenues generated directly via eCommerce.


Four in five shoppers make their decisions about a brand or product online, regardless of where they finalize transactions, according to McKinsey. During that research phase, omnichannel retailers have a visibility advantage, earning up to twice as much organic traffic as their online-only counterparts, McKinsey found.


Moreover, today’s shoppers are largely in the habit of shopping from site to site, channel to channel. They expect continuity and consistency in the shopping experience, regardless of the touchpoint, and reward brands that succeed at this. McKinsey estimates that omnichannel customers spend an average of 70% more than their offline-only counterparts.



02. Understand customers holistically to boost brand relevance


Omnichannel selling succeeds to such a degree because unifying customer data from different channels yields valuable insights that enable personalized experiences. More than seven in 10 consumers want personalized communications and tailored recommendations from brands they buy from, McKinsey found.


In other words, personalization pays.


Let’s take a look at Sephora, for example. Sephora provides a rich mobile app experience with personalized push notifications and the ability to book in-store style consultations online. At store locations, associates are able to access customers’ favorite picks and make relevant suggestions for new products.



Sephora’s Beauty Insider loyalty program further draws on in-store and online behavioral data to generate relevant offers. These tightly-connected and immediate experiences pay off: 70% of customers who visit Sephora’s site prior to a store visit do so within a day beforehand. Their average order value is also 13% higher than that of other customers, eTail West reported.



03. Satisfy the need for fulfillment speed


The pandemic gave many retailers a crash course in fulfillment, leaving many sellers scrambling to meet high high consumer expectations. Speedy delivery is now the norm: 36% of consumers are even reluctant to pay anything extra for next-day shipping, Deloitte found.


Store-based services like “buy online, pickup in-store” can help you to provide speedy fulfillment without paying for express home delivery. While repurposing store real estate to accommodate pickup services takes an investment, you can offer customers a fast and free way to collect the goods they bought online.


Store-based fulfillment services also make the most of available inventory, reducing the potential for dead stock. Not to mention that 85% of store pickup shoppers make unplanned additional purchases once inside the store, Harvard Business Review reported.



04. Set the stage for new business models


Not only does omnichannel retail help meet shoppers’ expectations for relevance and speed; it can also form a solid foundation for new brand offerings that require nimble operations.


Enhanced brick-and-mortar store experiences are one example. Integrated promotions can highlight designer trunk shows, in-store classes, and other events as well as store services that appeal to shoppers’ interests, encouraging them to linger longer.


Omnichannel can additionally support the complex logistics of experimental initiatives. Think: product rentals, trade-ins for resale, and curated subscriptions. These all require you to reprocess a high volume of returned goods, making stores ideal waystations for these services, supported by robust digital self-service content.


Levi’s has transformed its stores into omnichannel innovation hubs. Customers can personalize, alter, and redesign their denim with guidance from pros at the Tailor Shops. They can additionally bring in used merchandise (which Levi’s then resells through its second-hand eCommerce site), or attend one-on-one stylist appointments at stores. And, of course, they can access curbside and in-store pickup.



omnichannel retail levi's


Top omni-channels to sell on


While your eCommerce site is your brand’s most important location online, tapping other digital channels can extend your reach to new audiences and strengthen your relationships with current customers. Niche channels can be especially useful, as they may offer better visibility at a lower price point than mass platforms.


Potential channels include (but aren’t limited to):



Your online store


Your flagship eCommerce site acts as the hub for all of your brand’s digital activities. It’s a place where shoppers should be able to find all the information they need about your products, services, and stores. It’s also a channel where you have the most control over and visibility into the full user journey.



In-person retail


This includes your physical stores, pop-ups, mobile merchandise vans, and other physical outlets. It’s critical to connect your store with your online inventory, plus customer order histories and product information, in order to ensure a seamless experience for your shoppers. (Pro tip: Wix POS, together with Wix Payments, lets you sync your online transactions with your offline ones.)



Online marketplaces


Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Wish and other third-party channels have the power to boost your brand’s visibility among established audiences. The biggest challenge is keeping all of your channels in sync, and remaining compliant with each channel’s requirements. That’s why it’s evermore important to establish a central hub for managing all of your cross-channel activities.



Search engines


It’s no secret that Google is the largest search engine in the world. Nowadays, it doubles up as a space to research brands, compare products, and even complete purchases (think: Google Shopping). It only makes sense for your brand to invest in organic strategies like SEO or search ads that put your business on the map.



Social commerce

 

Shoppers are increasingly discovering products from their favorite social channels, including TikTok, Instagram (see our guide on how to sell on Instagram) and Facebook. With tools for livestream shopping, customer service, checkout, and more—social channels are in and of themselves powerful sales channels. Learn more about social commerce.



Conversational commerce


Be it through live chat, text messages, voice shopping, or social messaging, there’s no shortage of ways for brands and customers to connect. Conversational commerce techniques and channels use real-time interactions to nudge consumers toward a purchase.



How to build an omnichannel retail strategy


With so many channels to choose from, it can be tempting to try a little bit of everything. But unless you’ve got a budget to rival Sephora’s or Levi’s, it’s better to pick a few high-priority channels and grow from there.


After all, who hasn’t endured a confusing store pickup process or received a comically off-base targeted email? These snafus make brands memorable for the wrong reasons, and can have a negative impact on the bottom line.


To ramp up your omnichannel strategy in a manageable manner, follow these below steps.




01. Focus on your customers’ priorities


Your omnichannel strategy shouldn’t be dictated by which websites are trendiest. Instead, learn where your target audience likes to shop and prioritize connecting their preferred touchpoints with physical store offerings. Start by researching:


  • How your audience prefers to learn about products and offers

  • What devices and online/offline resources they access when conducting research

  • What payment methods are popular

  • Whether fast, free, or other factors matter most for fulfillment

  • Where else audiences gather and shop

  • What convinces customers to re-engage


To find the answers, start with any and all existing store data. If you’re already open for business, view purchase histories, website analytics (like those provided by Wix Analytics), customer service feedback, store traffic patterns, and numerous other data sources to understand existing behavior. To capture needs that may be going unmet, consider surveying your target audience, both online and offline.


Finally, layer in the regional, demographic, and category trends that apply to your brand. By understanding your industry, the competitive landscape, and demographics of the region you serve, you can compare your findings to broader trends.



02. Launch your channels from one hub


Once you’ve whittled down your list of channels, it’s time to find a platform that can host your omnichannel operations. If you use Wix for eCommerce, you already have access to a suite of tools, apps, and integrations into several top marketplaces and social channels. If not, look for an eCommerce platform that supports:


  • Mobile-first functionality and design: Consumers now do the majority of their research from their phones, with four in every 10 online purchases made via mobile commerce. Make sure that your eCommerce platform allows you to customize the mobile experience so that shoppers can easily navigate through your site from a small screen.

  • Multichannel inventory and order management: The more channels you sell on, the more difficult it becomes to keep your orders and inventory in check. But a platform built with omnichannel in mind should be able to update inventory in real time (no matter where you receive an order), route orders to the right fulfillment partners, and help prevent overselling.

  • Easy listing management: Your eCommerce platform should serve as the source of truth for all of your product data. It should allow you to do two basic things: cleanly transfer your product data to new channels, and customize product details (like price and title) for each channel. The latter gives you the best chance at ranking and appealing to customers on each channel.

  • Unified checkout. Make sure that any brick-and-mortar locations use a POS solution that integrates with your online payment system. Both your online store and physical store should be equipped with standardized payment options, tax and shipping rules, consistent product data, and unified customer profiles.


Did you know: When you launch a new channel from Wix, you receive exclusive benefits, such as VIP onboarding, higher listing limits, and more. Learn more about selling on multiple channels with Wix.



03. Choose the right marketing mix


While basic eCommerce functionality is a must-have, the array of marketing channels you use should be as unique as your business. Consider the marketing channels that are most valuable to your customers and see how they can come in handy at various stages of the customer journey:


  • Discovery: To introduce your brand to new shoppers, establish brand outposts on social media sites, develop eCommerce content that boosts visibility in search results, reward word-of-mouth recommendations, and invest in ad campaigns to reach relevant audiences. You can use Wix Multichannel Campaigns to simplify marketing across various channels like email, Facebook, and Instagram. Instead of managing each separately (and consequently logging in and out of multiple sites), you can create a unified campaign from one dashboard and easily track your success.

  • The “messy middle:" By some estimates, omnichannel consumers need anywhere from 20 to 500 brand interactions to be convinced to buy a product. During this time, many customers are researching their options, consulting other sites, comparing prices, looking for coupons, and talking with friends. At this stage, reviews, buying guides, and social media endorsements can help to sway shoppers in the right direction. Remarketing ads, abandoned-cart emails, discount offers, and other tactics can be effective, too.

  • Post-purchase: Reach out to existing customers with timely offers and content to win their repeat business. An omnichannel platform like Wix eCommerce can use CRM data to personalize messages to a customer’s past actions and behaviors.You can test a variety of methods here—from tried-and-true email replenishment offers, to product subscriptions and/or social media campaigns.

04. Optimize for crossover fulfillment efficiencies


The one aspect of omnichannel retail that may seem most monstrous to tackle is competing with the scale and speed of mass merchants like Amazon or Walmart, especially when it comes to order fulfillment.


The good news is that clear, upfront communication can set the right expectations. While some things will always remain out of your control, you can prevent predictable cost overruns or customer-service mishaps by taking the following steps.

  • Tout the “green” option. Given consumers’ growing preference for sustainable commerce, you may be able to guide shoppers toward bigger shipping windows by highlighting the environmental benefits of this option.

  • Ship-from-store. Using local and regional carriers to ferry items across short distances can trim costs and shorten delivery timeframes, as well as put local inventory to new use.

  • Offer curbside pickup. Curbside pickup can support both free and fast delivery, while putting the onus on your customers to come pick their wares up from your store.



05. Leverage the big players to fill gaps


No matter how thoughtfully you strategize, the fact is that you likely don’t have the resources to do everything on every channel. But you can ride the coattails of bigger players who offer selling, marketing, and fulfillment opportunities that help bridge the gaps.


In exchange, giant brands rely on independent retailers like you to broaden their platform’s product selections, localize their content, and boost relevance. While these David-and-Goliath partnerships do have potential drawbacks, there’s no question that they can help rapidly achieve scale, efficiency, and visibility. Consider:


  • Amazon fulfillment if your audience craves speed: If most of your potential customers live beyond the reach of store locations and want items delivered fast, or if many are Prime members, you may want to consider learning how to sell on Amazon and joining Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) to enable swift home delivery. Amazon additionally offers Multi-Channel Fulfillment (MCF) services, allowing you to provide Prime-like shipping outside of Amazon—but note that other marketplaces, like Walmart, expressly forbid the use of FBA for fulfillment.

  • Social commerce platforms to boost visual content capabilities on mobile: Fully 99% of all social media users access their networks via mobile devices, which means that establishing social brand outposts can provide an instant mobile visibility boost. Shopping capabilities on sites like Pinterest and Instagram allow you (or any of your brand ambassadors) to tag products on your posts. Meanwhile, channels like Snapchat, provide a way for your brand to leverage augmented-reality shopping features, without having to spend months developing them on your own.



06. Measure and optimize


Not only is comprehensive integration and execution crucial to the success of omnichannel initiatives; it’s also critical to capture shoppers’ activities when using omnichannel features and to compile a single customer record that reflects all their interactions with the brand.


This should give you unprecedented insights into your customers’ preferences and behaviors. It will allow you to answer questions like: Do customer purchase paths align with your expectations? Which channels attract your highest-value customers? What messaging, offers, and products resonate most with customers on each channel?



Main benefits of omnichannel retail


There are many benefits to embracing omnichanel retail for your ecommerce or online business. Some of the main include:



  • Enhanced customer experience: Customers can seamlessly and consistently interact with your brand across all channels, which means increased satisfaction and loyalty. and potentially repeat sales.

  • Increased sales and revenue: By providing multiple optimized touchpoints along the customer journey, omnichannel strategies can significantly boost conversion rates and drive business growth.

  • Improved brand image: Omnichannel retail helps you build a unified brand experience, strengthening your brand identity and reputation.

  • Reduced costs and increased efficiency: Omnichannel strategies can streamline operations and inventory management, leading to cost savings and increased efficiency.

  • Competitive advantage: By offering a superior customer experience and seamless omnichannel engagement, you gain a competitive edge in today's retail landscape.


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